THE POET

by James B.Baker

CHAPTER ONE

 

     In this time Max Ogilvey and I are a man who had aged indistinctly, without renown. We were re-emerging onto the American scene at a time when the entire male populace of America was impotent; except, as it turned out, for Max Ogilvey. The cause of the culture-wide disorder will receive varying designations, likely a little of both the mental and the physical. The designations will be to account for the spontaneous ungeneration of the entire staff side of the American population.

     It would be important perhaps that some understanding of the condition be attained to appreciate the story of me and Max, for it became our road to stultifying success.

     The distaff side of the population was flaunting their assets, arising from the purity of their desperation; unloved and lo!, unpregnant for many years. They would be fair game for a man who could get a hard on, that would be without the need to piss. The Max was marching onto this scene.

     I was a silent partner. Max was a filthy man. We will use his nom to avoid confusion for his accumulation of multiple personas within the Ogilvey body. The body was dressed in the ragged, vestiged vestments of a priest. It was a long, black robe that flared. He was wearing nothing underneath, for naught was all we could afford for the common bod.

     The bod was finally strong at this time, both mentally and physically. This had not always been true. We were now striding onto a stage, into a society that had become frozen while we were out of it into an enforced effeteness.

     When Max was only himself within the Ogilvey body, he had opted out of society for sixteen years. He had chosen to forego the tensions of everyday living, becoming a walking Rip Van Winkle. Now we were returning in our drearily rumpled robe.

     ‘Neath that robe dangled free the sac for the bod’s sperm. The bod had traveled widely during all of those sixteen years. We were in the Crescent City when Max finally re-awakened, something I had tried to get him to do for years.

     Our bod was sitting on a curb five feet below sea level. Max was in command and he was holding a book open in reading position. In passing, a young woman looked at the book, then a glance down the long length of Max.

     I had enough control in our mind that I established instant rapport with her subconscious. She was married. She was set up very well as in beautiful and nicely tonsured. She felt herself akin to so many of the young women in America in this tenth decade of the twentieth century. She was smoothly athletic and so very sketchily clad.

     A soft wind off the delta ployed her fore and aft breechclout aprons as well as the dandling flaps over each of her nipples. As it was for our bod in its indigency so it was with her in fashion. Her scantiness was the latest, fashionably unclad she was clean- ‘neath eye of any beholder.

     She was here on the edge of New Orleans’ seedy slums, to continue busy-ness that she and others like her contrive to fill their days. Nearby was a pretentious Ye Olde Antique Shoppe; just for Yuppies. She felt she needed an oddment to abut baby Grande. Her husband was a locally famous pianist. She stopped as a rare frown wrinkled her fair brow. For a second she seemed to doubt her exotic, flaming-hair beauty. The doubts may have arisen because her husband and lovers were all impotent, now she was looking at Max.

     Max had not looked at her for he was too absorbed in his book. She had a doubt, so she looked at herself in the cracked mirror outside the nearby barbershop. She fluffed her halo of fiery hair. The mirror was there for that purpose, to advertise the barbershop subliminally and for the vain. She smiled. It was an intimate smile between her and her alter-image. Both were reassured.

     Through her eyes we saw the surly visages dimly as they stared out at her from the miraged interior of the shop. The reflection of the potholed street distorted their faces. Even so the hopelessness of their male hunger for her female beauty showed through. Unwittingly her thoughts told me she was unsated of herself as she took note of their spectatorial regard. She was femme fair walking, almost a walking Lady Godiva.

     The barbershop quartet’s sheepdog eyes dropped, their shoulders rose and dropped, not purposely a shrug. One said, “In the old days I would’a.” He stopped to figure just what he would’a and another one mocked him.

     “Whad’ya mean the old days? Ya’ ain’t past thirty.”

     “Thirty-one. An’ I mean when we could all still get a hard on; when my wife treated me like a man an’ not like a chore boy.... well, gol-daug since I cain’t satisfy her.”

     Another one said, “We’re all that way, boy; a huge company.”

     He replied, “Why?”

     It was the question in my portion of the Max mind and I had to figure we would find out in the weeks and months ahead.

     The woman turned back to our bod. She mouthed her maundering, “What’s he reading? What a purty smile.” Her lips quivered as she smiled reflexively.

     We aroused her curiosity, but she was cautious as she viewed what she assumed was the village idiot. The body was filthy and decked out in its priestly vestments. Max had become aware. I could tell because he was turning the pages by reflex and much too fast. He was allowing strange things to happen to our bod, glandular stiffening.

     Sixteen years of habit reasserted itself and he was reading again. She was more than curious as she moved closer to peer over our shoulder. He was holding the book right. She squinted for she would not wear her glasses in public. Vanity was a hard master. She leaned from the waist and peered at Max.

     She saw that his lips weren’t moving though his eyes did. He was competent, but not a speed-reader. His near hand moved, dropping down between his legs. He seemed to be…”Max!” It wasn’t often he could shock me, “You’re in mixed company.”

     Her thoughts coalesced, causing her eyes to change. Her thoughts touched her groin and Max’s. She was aware of the pleasure of the delta breeze against her hairless…Anyone could have read those thoughts. I was better than most, but still an amateur…”Can he get a hard on?” In the quietness of her thoughts she was explicit. Likely she would not be so in mixed company. I would guess she was descendant of the Creole. She smiled as she twisted her lips to bare white teeth. She spoke aloud in pleasant modulation as though she was in the presence of idiocy…”We women are by nature the keepers of the race’s sexual reality and men are the keepers of the dream, sexual fantasies. We see the sexual activities of our children from birth and most men don’t…” I thought she was echoing Max’s thoughts until I realized she was reading what Max was reading.

     She continued in her own thoughts. .”Filthy he is, an idiot he isn’t. If I gave him a bath…? Something about him, body…stop it! My tits are setting up, can he get a…?”

     It was easy to read her mind. She told herself not to be so desperate as to pick up filth off the curb…”We’ell I am, but I won’t!” She turned and walked away, away from the one man in America who could still get a hard on.

     Max was aware of her as a woman and he consciously acknowledged his pleasure when he had felt her nipples against his back. It was a never mind me. I’d made the Ogilvey body aware of sex before. Max was now independently aware of it. Sex was the best medicine to rout shadows from our mind.

     As Max slipped his book into his special underarm pocket, he stood. He watched the young woman walk away. She disappeared into the Antique shop and out of Max’s mind.

     He talked to himself…”I must get to California, to the Los Angeles basin to find myself a career there. But, until I make improvements in my circumstances, wardrobe and hygiene I must expect to continue with shank’s mare and now is as good a time as any to get started.”

     “Haven’t you forgotten something, Mr. Ogilvey?”

     “What? Who said that?”

     “It is I, Moxie, Max.”

     “Don’t bother. You’re a figment, and I don’t need non-realities anymore. Keep still or keep out of my mind.”

     It was as though he waited for me to speak again, but I knew better. I had to continue my policy of non-confrontation avoidance.

     I had seen Max getting stronger in the last few years, until he became the strong one. I used to be the dominant persona. He was speaking again as though I didn’t exist.

     “Lemme’ see. If I take Hi-way 61 north and west, I’ll be able to cross the Mississippi at Baton Rouge. From there I can hit Hi-way 190 and go west, playing it by ear after that.

     “But I gotta’ watch out for those small-town cops.”

     I caused Max to turn the bod’s head as we passed the barbershop so that I could watch the envy on the faces of the quartet as they in turn watched the free swing of our long legs. They seemed to be sighing for the freedom implied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

     Before erasing the world sixteen years before, Max departed from the safe cocoon of his daily routine. It was on the day things began to unravel for him—the day he created me. A new company memo had just been circulated.

     Triggers are made of such things, and the mind does the rest.

     In that huge room full of desks, his was a small one, and he was an insignificant clerk among many. He worked on insurance claims and adjustments for the company.

     Whatever the memo said, it was cathartic, mentioning the increase in fees that would affect all new insurance policies and renewals of old ones.

     The trigger could’ve been the increase, or it could’ve been the cynicism of the corporate attitude. Probably it was a combination of Max’s days and memos I wasn’t there at the time, so I don’t know. Some things aren’t retroactive.

     I came about because Max wouldn’t talk to flesh-and-blood individuals. He was very lonely, and probably not very sane at the time. To be honest, he was a mental mess for a long, long time.

     He said later it must’ve been a burst blood vessel in his brain. He passed out. I believe he retreated and began his walking somnolence act. That would last sixteen years. If Max ever faces those painful memories, he might learn for sure.

     He came to wearing a huge smile. That was unusual, because he never smiled before. He wore that smile all the years I knew him, and he’s just now beginning to modify it. Finally, he became aware of it, and it embarrassed him.

     It was a smile of beatitude, unlike the smiles of normal people. He beamed that beatific smile at the world ever since. He still wore a shadow of it in New Orleans, but he was learning to live without it for longer and longer periods of time. Few people had such a smile—it was based on naivete.

     Max’s smile frightened people in his office.

     “What’s the matter, Max?”

     “Hey, Max! Max! Mr. Ogilvey, are you all right?”

     As far as I’ve learned, Max discarded everything at that moment—his name, his job, his worldly goods, and the world. He donned his coat and marched out of the place without a backward glance. He never went back.

     He walked out into a snowstorm. Snowflakes and skirts flew, and he saw an occasional display of red where the cold chafed intimate places. Nothing swerved his gaze. He seemed to have forgotten women.

     The wind had a chill factor of thirty degrees below zero as it came off the lake. It brawled around corners and down the man-made cliffs of tall buildings.

     Max grinned at the wind, carrying his smile like a message to the world. Max was embarrassed when he remembered, sometimes forming a moue. “I had the smile as the manifestation,” he once said. “Now I have to find the achievements to match it.”

     As he did so many times before, Max left his place of work and took the bus home. He got off at his usual stop and took the elevator to his apartment.

     When he entered his room, he took off his hat and coat and sat. He was there a long time, and his smile remained as he stared blankly at the wall.

     He might’ve been in a trance or catatonic, and the wattage of his smile never dimmed. He lost the ability to make decisions, and his responses to his environment were automatic. He managed to speak once before his mind stopped completely. The telephone rang, but he sat in trance and didn’t answer until the caller hung up.

     Later, at dusk, he stirred. He stood and drifted toward his bathroom. He used the toilet and flushed it, then he drifted back into his living room and bedroom. He stood by the only window staring at the fall of snow—soft, white, wet, and deadly. He beamed his beatific smile at the world, and the telephone rang again.

     He picked it up automatically. “Yes? This used to be his residence, but there’s no one here by that name. I used to be him, but things change. Good day. No, I can’t help you. I’m leaving. I won’t be back. I have much to do, you see. I have reading to do, and, oh, other things that I’ve neglected in life.”

     As best I can reconstruct events; those were the words he used to avow his intent to disregard it all. It would be many years before he resumed his mien, and even more years before he allowed the injuries inflicted by mankind to become pain with his mind and body.

     When Max dropped the receiver into its cradle, he hung up on the world for sixteen years. He unplugged the telephone and his television. He sat on the bed, immobile for a long time. There was no one close enough to him to rush over and see if he was all right.

     When he finally stood, the white, falling snow was dark in the night. He put on his hat and coat, then he dropped his key ring on the dining room table. It held his car key, his apartment key, and the key to his deposit box he’d rented for years.

     Once in the hall, Max looked right and left, then he turned toward the bank of elevators. He took his time pushing the call button. He watched the numbers change above the door, but just before the elevator arrived, he walked to the stairwell. He descended through the chill, buttoning his coat and turning up his collar. It took him a while to walk down eighteen flights, but he had plenty of time. He exited the stairwell and strolled across the lobby, then he walked into the wind’s teeth.

 

     Max left his apartment door agape when he left. A small man got off the elevator Max almost took, and he bustled down the hall to Max’s apartment. He was about to ring the bell when he saw the door was open. He pushed it gingerly open with a gloved hand. What he feared had already happened. Max was gone, and he left everything behind.

     I know that to be true, because I called for General Delivery for Max Ogilvey in Denver, Colorado, and there was a letter from the man. He sent various letters around the country, offering restitution, but Max never salved the man’s conscience.

     The man stood there for a while before making up his mind. He took the key ring and closed and locked the apartment door, then he took the elevator down.

     He found Max’s car and looked at it. He kicked a tire, then looked around. Max wasn’t anywhere to be seen, so the man drove the car away. He whistled most of the way home.

 

     Max was thirty-three when he started his trek. Early on, he developed the bad habit of not eating often or much, and the habit stuck. His body often forgets to signal for food, because he rarely could afford to buy any. Lack of money extended to his wardrobe. It was a wonder Max didn’t die from hypothermia. He was often cold. As years passed, he developed mannerisms that matched his smile. He failed to remove a build-up of wax in his left ear. That made him hard of hearing. He smiled, cupped his left ear, and tilted his head when he listened to something.

     Some would’ve expected him to gather disciples or believers, or that someone with money might’ve noticed Max’s lack and provided for his needs, but neither happened.

     As Max developed new characteristics to match his life-style, he gradually thinned to gauntness. He could’ve been mistaken for a consumptive or an idiot. If people looked closely, though, it would’ve been apparent that he wasn’t an idiot or senile. He was just odd or slightly mad.

     During his wanderings, he seemed to travel in a void. He inflicted discomfort on those who tried to converse with him, but he never noticed. Max always walked into or away from the sunrise, spanning the continent. No one knows how many times he crossed the continent during those years.

     He became familiar to transcontinental truck drivers. He frightened them, bringing their superstitions to the surface, because he seemed able to travel faster on foot than they in their vehicles.

     When Max walked away from his job at the age of thirty-three, he weighed two hundred thirty pounds, and he was six-feet-three-inches tall. During the years of his roving, he usually weighed one hundred thirty-five pounds.

     Max wasn’t catatonic, because he was always on the move. As a secondary persona, I don’t know the proper term for his condition. He acted like a deaf-mute.

     During those years, he handled necessary external contacts for food, clothing, shelter, and disposal of waste. Most of that became automatic and done in silence. When possible, he did them alone. Eventually, he invented me.

     Even so, he maintained a door to the world by indulging his need to read. He always had a book with him.

     When he read a book down to tatters, he traded it at a public library for another. If he picked up a book in Toledo, Ohio, he might deposit it on a shelf in Denver. No one ever gainsaid such exchanges during his sixteen years on the road.

 

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